The four-day Maximum Ames Music Festival is in full swing this weekend and for those of you who are in the Ames/Des Moines reading area or are able to make the short drive from Iowa City to Ames, there is a strong line-up of choice bands this year, performing at venues around the city.
Tomorrow night at the Ames City Auditorium is the cream dream climax of the festival, however, with British invasion giants the Zombies headlining the show along with Et Tu Bruce, featuring singer and guitar player Jamie White, who is the son of Zombies founding member Chris White.
For those who think this might be a comeback disaster with one, bitter founding member phoning it in (or worse), rest assured that the current Zombies line-up features original members and songwriters Colin Blunstone on vocals, Rod Argent on piano, organ and vocals and White on bass.
For those of you who missed the boat, understandably, as the Zombies definitely flew under the radar of the Kinks, Beatles or Stones, these British underdogs released a slew of incredible baroque rock and pop singles from 1964 to 1968, including the obscure gem “You Make Me Feel Good” (covered by record digging bands like Yo La Tengo) and the instantly recognizable (I’d hope so, anyway!) classic “Tell Her No,” along with many other songs that make people say “Oh yeah, the Zombies did that? I love that song!” They released an album of original tunes plus R&B standards called Begin Here in 1965. And then, their creative career peaked with the absolutely flawless, baroque psychedelic LP Odessey and Oracle.
The album was released in 1967, right after the band would sadly break up (for more than 20 years, anyway, missing the momentum of the era).
It really is a tragedy of the ’60s British rock movement that the Zombies departed when they did. Odessey sold poorly in England and was really only picked up in the states when Bob Dylan organist and prolific producer Al Kooper put some wheels on it and got the single “Time of the Season” on the Billboard charts, eventually peaking at #3.
The album is filled with perfect, magical pop songs like “Rose For Emily,” “Care for Cell 44” and “Friend of Mine.” Although, the whole album flows effortlessly from start to finish with irresistible hooks, ethereal vocal melodies, touching lyrics and keyboard parts straight out of a wizard’s cauldron. Local hip-hop artist and obscure sample architect Coolzey aka Zach Lint always claimed that the Odessey and Oracle jammer “Beechwood Park” would make the illest sample of all time.
For years the members of the defunct Zombies toiled away on solo projects and other distractions, most notably Argent’s proto-pop and prog band Argent, which is more of a hilarious soundtrack to a mid 70’s house party movie than anything else. Argent might have well invented the term “Classic Rock.”
In 1991 members of the Zombies reformed to do the comeback thing. A handful of albums with new material, along with countless reissues and retrospectives, have been released as well. Looking through most respectable record collections these days will include at least one of the gorgeous reissues of Odessey and Oracle on vinyl.
As far as their current tour is concerned, the band sounds pretty good when you consider how short-lived their amazing, original career was and how they’ve worked as insurance agents and car salesmen since then. They almost have the feel of a small-time garage band getting out on the road and cutting their teeth in front of small audiences.
Opening for the Zombies through September, culminating in their final show (of the tour) at the Maximum Ames Festival is Et Tu Bruce, a band that while carrying the British pop flag, does a bit of the modern shuffle to distance themselves from being a Zombies, Jr. band.
White, who fronts the band along with guitarist Matthew O’Toole, bassist Darryn Bruce and his brother Craig Bruce on drums, started the band in 2010. White and O’Toole have crafted a sound that borrows as much from White’s father as they do from later British pop kings like ELO, but with an American West Coast tinge of the Byrds and the Beach Boys. Their latest album, Suburban Sunshine, definitely rocks in the shadow of the Zombies, which isn’t a bad thing at all and something that should be done with great pride. But, understandably, Et Tu Bruce wants to stand on their own two legs. They do with melodic grace and driving, catchy songwriting.
To find out more information about this year’s Maximum Ames Music Festival, which runs through Sunday, check out maximumames.com.